I have enormous respect for anyone whose careful consideration of the matter has led him/her to conclude that the evidence is compelling enough to boldly proclaim their conclusion: there is no God. They are not simply agnostic, which they would be if they were to say they just don’t get it (belief in God). Agnostics are not normally hostile to God or to people who profess belief in Him. No, most atheists are aware of the arguments for belief, and have definitively come to the conclusion that the case is closed. God is a construct of primitive minds. I don’t agree with them, but I am both tolerant of and would defend their right to hold that opinion, and to be free to say so.
Yet I want to try (for the benefit of people who stumble by, since experience suggests I will not convince the atheists) to make a case for Christianity. Before doing so, let me say in the strongest possible terms that I am not defending ‘religion’, since (a) there are so many of them that are in conflict with each other, as well as the Christian faith, and (b) Christianity is a belief system on which Christians build their lives. It’s not religion per se (although many Christians are religious). It is what we accept as foundational truth. It’s our worldview.
What are you betting your life on?
The first argument is a form of Pascal’s wager, which starts with the assertion that you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist any more than you can prove that He does. Either choice requires you to make a leap of faith, even though there is not enough “proof” to make the case conclusive. If you choose ‘no’ and find out later (after this life) you were wrong, you gained very limited benefits (maybe the right to feel intellectually superior), and lost more than can be quantified. If you choose ‘yes’, and then just die, you have given up little of any consequence during life, and still died.
But what can be gained by choosing to live one’s life as if God exists, even though the proof that He does is all circumstantial? Well, if history is any guide, more than can be understood by anyone who has not gone through the crucible of suffering. It’s one thing for a comfortable, well educated, mid-to-upper-strata American or citizen of some other free country to say that they don’t believe in God. Never having missed a meal, been thrown into prison without having committed a crime, had their possessions confiscated by the state, been raped, beaten or tortured, all without legal recourse, they have quite simply not felt a need for God. They have not cried out in their pain or anguish “Give me justice!” But it’s quite another thing for the innocent children in Uganda or Somalia, who miss at least two meals every day, have no rights, no possessions, no comfort, no peace. They spend every waking moment looking for water and food. Or consider the women in Pakistan or other countries controlled by the Taliban or other zealots who spend their days inside their burkas and inside their houses, fearing beatings or worse by their husbands if they show anything other than total submission and obedience.
Now juxtapose that against our own prosperity, abundance, and freedom of choice. Why do we have so much and they have so little? Does it have anything to do with the revolutionary ideas that all people are created equal by their creator, and that each has rights given to them by God, not country, and that those rights are objective, not subjective – so much so that the government has no right to take them away? Would we have become a great country without those principles? How could freedom – the kind Martin Luther King spoke about when he said ‘Let freedom ring from every mountaintop’ – how could that kind of freedom ever have become possible? The lessons of history should tell us a lot about these things. Sadly, many of us have never been told the unfiltered truth about the most important developments in history from the perspective of the underlying idologies that shaped the decision makers.
A uniquely Christian truth
The history classes I took growing up were beyond lifeless. They were not only a total bore, but they distorted history! Somewhere along the way, somebody decided that it would be a good idea to remove religion from textbooks. In doing so, we unknowingly unleashed an insidious evil that will ultimately lead to the dissipation of America’s leadership among the nations of the world. We as a nation have been great, not because we are or were smarter, or harder-working, or luckier, but because the founders of our nation understood a uniquely Christian truth: That all men are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Don’t think that to be uniquely a Christian point of view? Search your history books. Try to find an ideology other then Christianity that made it a principle on which to build a nation. Thankfully, a number of countries have adopted capitalism, or democracy, or other facets of our self-evident truths. So it’s part and parcel of what has made us great.
But it’s not the whole story, either. The second principle was that the founders knew that within every human heart is an almost limitless capacity for both great good and terrible evil. They knew that, as Lord Acton famously put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Solution? Don’t allow anyone access to absolute power. So they put in the checks and balances.
The founders also understood that for a country to function, evil motivations like greed and the lust for power had to be reigned in, and they knew that other countries’ attempts to do the reigning by force, ultimately not only failed, but resulted in the destruction of the democracy. So they concluded that only a moral people – people who would reign themselves in just by being moral – could successfully build a democratic country. That’s why our founders were so staunchly Christian. It’s why George Washington said
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.
And it’s why John Adams said
Religion and virtue are the only Foundations, not only of Republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all governments and in all combinations of human society.
So Americans were free to pursue success for themselves and their families, but unlike people in non-Christian democracies, submitted themselves to God’s definition of right and wrong, and believed that there was no way to break God’s rules without consequences. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay…” the Bible says, and the people who believed that did good more often than people who didn’t. After all, if you fear eternal punishment for your sins, and if you believe there is no sin that God will not find out about, you will at the very least think twice before committing a willful act of wrong, and usually will opt for being obedient to God’s commands.
Wise and otherwise
The Bible says that belief in God is the beginning of wisdom. The opposite of wisdom is folly. Atheists usually insist that belief in God is not wise, and that belief requires a kind of weak-mindedness. Yet there are plenty of people who are highly intelligent among the ranks of believers. Faith in God does not require intelligence, and it does not require a lack of it. It does not exclude any one. Heaven is promised to those who believe, and Hell to those who reject belief outright. Most atheists believe that when death comes to them, that will just be the end of them. Yet there are people who have died (according to medical and legal definitions of death) and come back to tell amazing stories of going to another place, of seeing people they once knew, of feeling love and acceptance there. They seem to be holding back though, as though they have been shown that it is better for us not to know everything: as if they would be violating a trust to tell us. My point, though, is that evidence exists that there is life after death. How can atheists be so certain that they are right?
Yet with all the uncertainty in life, with all of the evidence that belief is no more irrational than unbelief, with the penalty for making the wrong choice being eternal torment, and the reward for making the right one being eternal blessing, some people still choose “no God”. Yet here we see the answer to the question so many ask: ‘How could a Good God send people to Hell for eternity?’ The answer seems to be that God chooses to give us free will – the absolute unrestricted right to choose – and though it grieves Him greatly, he allows us to send ourselves to Hell for eternity. The doors to Hell, C.S. Lewis said, are locked from the inside. There are no atheists in Hell, but none of them want out. They rejected God’s offer of salvation, and Hell is just where they want to be. If they didn’t want God in their lives this side of eternity, why would they want Him on the other? I love the way Max Lucado put it in “3:16”.
[Jesus] pounds ‘Do Not Enter’ signs on every square inch of Satan’s gate and tells those hell-bent on entering to do so over his dead body. Even so, some souls insist.
Satan or Jesus?
It may not seem fair that God would set things up that way, but think of it this way. Whose definition of right and wrong do you want to bet your life on: yours or Jesus’? See, that’s what it boils down to. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were these: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s a paraphrase of Matthew 22:37, which is Jesus’ new and improved version of the ten commandments. He said “All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” So it’s simple, but it’s not easy. It requires surrender, and that requires a huge leap of faith. I know. I rejected the offer for all but the last eight years of my life, and I came kicking and screaming all the way. But I’m a slow learner. I had to try it my way for way longer than most people before seeing that what I was holding on to wasn’t worth that much in the first place. But eventually I realized that it really does come down to this: Choose Jesus, or you get Satan by default. And Satan is the father of lies.
I grieve for those who choose Satan over Jesus. They look for the things they need in all the wrong places. Yet even after life beats them up some, they stubbornly refuse any help. It’s like the cow that Lucado talked about in “3:16”. It stuck its head in a paint can and couldn’t shake it off. Can-nosed cows have trouble breathing, and can’t eat at all. They’re in great distress. Yet when rescuers approach to try to remove the can, the cow runs off. That’s a lot like atheists. They have a big problem, but run in the opposite direction every time someone tries to help.
If you have your head in a can, you can’t see Jesus. Why not let somebody help you take the can off?